Pet foods are specially put together by leading minds in nutrition to help your furry friends make the most of their mealtimes.
Yet if you live in a house with lots of different pets, you may well have been surprised to see them sneak one another’s dishes from time to time – even if you’ve done your level best to keep them orderly and separate.
You might well be wondering because of that – can dogs eat cat food? Well, yes, but they probably shouldn’t – read on to find out why.
Is cat food good for dogs?
In a certain manner of speaking, one could argue that some brands of cat food can be good for dogs, thanks to the fact that especially fresh and nutritious ingredients are added to it.
What’s more, both cats and dogs tend to have more carnivorous tendencies, and would be carnivores had they never entered the lives of their human masters and been domesticated over the ages.
So what’s the harm?
Well, the clue is very much in the name – dog food is for dogs, and cat food is for cats. While those species living together and occasionally picking at one another’s dinner when the other isn’t looking won’t do themselves any harm, it’s not the kind of thing one ought to make a habit of.
Moreover, if you’re on a tight budget and wondering if you can use some cat food you have found cheaper than dog food for a time until you’re back on your feet, please think again.
There’s nowhere near enough interchangeability between cat food and dog food to make cat food anywhere near an acceptable substitute for a healthy, balanced dog’s diet.
After all, these products were designed with entirely different animals in mind.
Cats and dogs vary in their nutritional requirements almost as much as humans and dogs do – they’re entirely separate species, who have evolved in very different ways.
Those certainly hadn’t planned for the contingency of one day living together with us – although we are very happy they want to – and as such, there’s no reason why your dog should be eating cat food except perhaps by mistake, or cheekily sneaking it to annoy their feline roommate.
Cat food often smells very delicious to dogs though, and they certainly will get a lot of temptation to try it. In fact, even if they eat the cat’s dinner, your dog is unlikely to suffer very much if it was a one-off.
However, letting dogs eat cat food is to be dissuaded in the long term, as the nutritional values in each pet’s kind of food differ greatly from that of the other.
Dangers of cat food for dogs
There’s nothing toxic to dogs in cat food, nor anything that’s going to cause them any immediate danger besides the possibility of an upset tummy.
However, there are still key differences in how cat food is made and what goes into it that make it very different indeed to dog food – but also, unfortunately, often quite tempting for your dog to try.
Although dogs are often the much larger of the two animals, cats are inherently creatures who need much more protein and meat in their diet, and this is reflected in cat food overall.
Dogs gain their nutritional benefits from an often surprisingly wide number of different food groups, which is perhaps why your pup is always oh so curious about whatever it is you are having to eat.
Overall, the high level of meat protein in cat food, as opposed to dog food, will, if your dog eats it regularly, eventually cause all kinds of dietary imbalances.
Over the longer term, these can even lead to complications with your dog’s internal organs.
That means not just an upset tummy or a strained gut, trying to process things it’s not used to – but also constipation, because there isn’t enough fiber in cat food to help keep your dog as regular as he or she needs to be.
The complications that come to your dog’s digestive and gastrointestinal systems from cat food can eventually mature into even more severe problems that most certainly require the attention of a well-trained vet.
What happens if your dog eats cat food
Your dog might occasionally nibble at cat food if he or she shares a home with a cat, or if you’re visiting the home of a friend or family member who has left out cat food for their own pet that your dog has sneaked away in secret to eat.
It’s naughty behavior for sure, but in the immediate term, nothing to worry too much about.
It’s if your dog ends up trying to actively eat cat food regularly that it’s best to try and intervene overall, as well as understand the more severe health issues that can occur.
These include strain and damage to dogs’ kidneys, but also his or her liver – both the result of having to process far higher levels of protein than they would if they stuck to their canine diet.
The scariest problems of all that can come from dogs who eat cat food are obesity and issues arising within the pancreas.
The former is always something to watch for in dogs – they process fat quite poorly compared to humans and other animals, and it’s surprisingly easy to bulk up a pup without intending to if they eat things to excess.
Yet problems with the pancreas, and pancreatitis overall, is a horrible ordeal for your dog to go through and will need absolute attention from your vet.
Worse still, some instances of this can be fatal for dogs – although if you are feeling panic while reading this, keep in mind that a dog would need to have an overall poor diet and be eating a remarkable amount of cat food to put him or herself at such a risk.
What to do if your dog eats cat food
Households that share pets may find that dogs and cats try to steal food from one another from time to time. In the best cases, they learn for themselves that it’s just no good compared to their own, and learn from it.
Yet dogs can be especially cheeky, and the scent of meats and juices in cat food can prove the ultimate temptation.
The ill-effects of dogs eating cat food are longer-term concerns, but it’s likely to cause upset stomachs and further deterioration in health if it’s left to run its course without your intervention.
Make sure that your dog and cat are eating separately, or even at separate times, and overall make sure that you catch your dog eating cat food early – this means you have the best chance of amending his or her behavior, as much as preventing long term harm and disease.
This is a behavioral issue that’s best nipped in the bud as early as you can for cats and dogs living together.
Your dog needs to understand that he or she has their own food to eat and that it’s tasty and packed with all the nutrition, vitamins and minerals they need.
Your dog must also understand that human food is for humans and cat food is for cats, and that sneaking food he or she shouldn’t be eating is going to result in your telling them off.
Dogs are very easily tempted by new flavors and don’t panic if you walk in and catch your dog eating cat food while he or she was left unattended.
Again, there is not going to be any immediate ramifications from this, but it’s also an opportunity to make it clear that this misbehavior shouldn’t be tolerated.
At an absolute push, a hungry dog could certainly get much in the way of energy and protein from cat food, and if you find that your pup is trying to sneak it despite your warnings, perhaps consult your vet and research if you need to be giving bigger portions of dog food to your pooch so they aren’t tempted to stray.
Cat food is, as the name suggests, designed and put together expressly for cats to eat – it’s no more suitable for dogs to try than it would be a human being.
Cats have nutritional needs unique from any of your other pets, and it’s not a smart idea to consider pet food interchangeable between species.
At an absolute push, your dog can indeed have a meal made up of cat food, but it really is more a question of whether your dog is stealing the cat’s food and needs to be trained not to.
Left to develop into a long term habit, dogs who eat cat food put themselves at risk of internal strain and aches, not to mention the risk of developing some serious health problems that will prove difficult to reverse.
Emily started this blog out of pure passion. She LOVES her 3 dogs; Chew Barka, Cooper & Nelson, and spends countless hours every day playing with them.
When she’s not nerding out on dogs, you’ll find her on a snowboard or in the kitchen baking chocolate brownies.
She’s been featured in PetAware, Dogtime, and ModernDog.